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Biden Visits Iraq For Formal End Of U.S. Combat Operations

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (file photo)
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Baghdad today ahead of the September 1 ceremony marking the formal end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's adviser, Yasin Majeed, says the prime minister and Biden are to meet August 31 to discuss, as he said, "the political situation and withdrawal, and Iraqis taking over responsibility for security."

Biden is also expected to use his visit to press Iraqi officials to form a new government after six months of political deadlock followed the inconclusive March 7 parliamentary elections.

The September 1 ceremony also marks the start of so-called "Operation New Dawn," indicating the end of America's mission in Iraq after invading the country and toppling Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003.

Some 50,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq. The two nations have signed a security agreement that says all U.S. forces must leave Iraq by the end of 2011.

Biden's visit comes at a time when Iraq is on high alert for attacks by insurgents after a series of bombings that killed dozens of people and underscored the fragility of Iraq's recent security gains.

compiled from agency reports

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Group Recognizes Russian Poets Arrested For Anti-War Verses As Political Prisoners

A photograph showing Artyom Kamardin with facial injuries in court earlier this year.

The Moscow-based human rights group Support Of Political Prisoners. Memorial has recognized Russian poets Artyom Kamardin, Nikolai Daineko, and Yegor Shtovba as political prisoners. The three were arrested in September on a charge of inciting hatred after they presented verses critical of the Kremlin's ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Kamardin’s girlfriend said earlier that police raped the poet with a dumbbell during the arrest. Last month, a court sent Kamardin to a psychiatric clinic for a 30-day forced evaluation. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Former Leader Of Navalny's Team In Yakutia Goes On Trial

Anatoly Nogovitsyn (file photo)

A court in Russia’s Yakutia began the trial of the ex-leader of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's team in the Siberia region on December 8. Anatoly Nogovitsyn is being tried on a charge of discrediting Russian forces involved in Moscow's ongoing invasion of Ukraine. The case against Nogovitsyn, who also leads the Yabloko party's branch in Yakutia, was launched in September after he criticized in an online post Russia's aggression against Ukraine and called on fellow citizens to stay away from 'killing Ukrainians." Nogovitsyn faces up to three years in prison if convicted. To read the original story by RFR/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Austria Says It Will Veto Bulgaria And Romania Joining Schengen Zone

Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karner (file photo)

Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karner told journalists that his country will veto EU members Romania and Bulgaria joining the passport-free Schengen Area, as he arrived for a meeting of EU justice and interior ministers in Brussels. The meeting was expected to approve Croatia joining Schengen, which currently includes 22 of the EU's 27 member countries as well as non-EU members Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein, and Iceland. Last month, the European Commission ruled that all three countries meet the technical criteria for joining, and the European Parliament has also voted in favor of their membership.

Red Cross Says It Has Visited Ukrainian, Russian Prisoners Of War

The International Committee of the Red Cross said the visits to POWs signify "important progress." (file photo)

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement on December 8 that it has visited more prisoners of war held by Russia and Ukraine in recent weeks, checking on their condition and treatment and sharing "much-awaited news with their families." The ICRC said the visits signify "important progress," but added that it must be granted unimpeded access to see all prisoners of war "repeatedly and in private."

Magnitude 5.6 Earthquake Strikes Russia's Caucasus Region

A magnitude 5.6 earthquake struck Russia's Caucasus region on December 8, the European Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC) said. The quake was 41 kilometers below the earth's surface, according to the EMSC. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.


Iran Carries Out First Execution Of Amini Protester Despite Outcry From West, Rights Groups

Mohsen Shekari was accused by Iranian authorities of blocking a street and attacking a member of the security forces with a machete in Tehran.

Iran has carried out its first execution of a protester from the unrest sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, carrying out a death sentence handed to a man who was accused of "warfare" for allegedly injuring a security officer.

The Mizan news agency, which is affiliated with the judiciary, said Moshen Shekari was hanged on December 8 after his appeal against his sentence was rejected by Iran's Supreme Court.

Shekari was accused of brandishing a weapon with the "intention of killing and causing terror and depriving the freedom and security of people," as well as "intentionally injuring" a security officer with a weapon and "blocking the street."

Shekari was one of thousands of Iranians to take to the streets nationwide since Amini died while in police custody in September. She was being held for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

The government has launched a brutal, and often deadly, crackdown on demonstrators, while lawmakers have pushed for harsh punishments to try and quell what has become the biggest challenge to the country's leadership since the Islamic revolution in 1979.

Rights groups and Western governments have warned Tehran about issuing death sentences to protesters after hasty trials some have called "sham" justice.

“Unfortunately, this is just really the latest tactic that we’ve seen from the Iranian regime with its ongoing, brutal crackdown on what can only be described as peaceful protesters -- individuals who are exercising their universal rights," U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said just two days before Shekari's execution.

"These sentences, we know, are meant to intimidate people, to suppress dissent. They are -- they simply underscore Iran’s leadership’s fears of its own people and the fact that Iran’s government fears the truth,” he added.

The activist HRANA news agency says that, as of November 29, at least 459 protesters had been killed during the unrest. The figure includes 64 minors.

Amnesty International says at least 28 people, including three children, could face execution in connection with nationwide protests as the Iranian authorities use the death penalty "as a tool of political repression to instill fear among the public and end the popular uprising."

"At least six people have already been sentenced to death in sham trials...The 28 individuals have all been denied fair trials including the rights to access lawyers of their choosing; to be presumed innocent; to remain silent; and to receive a fair, public hearing," it said in a statement on December 2.

The brutality of the crackdown prompted Badri Hosseini Khamenei, the estranged sister of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to publish a letter on December 6 expressing sympathy with mothers who have lost their loved ones because of their opposition to the Islamic republic in the last four decades and declared that she opposes the actions of her brother.

Badri Khamenei’s daughter and the supreme leader’s niece, Farideh Moradkhani, was arrested a week ago after being summoned to Tehran's Islamic Revolutionary Prosecutor's Office.

Badri Khamenei noted her daughter's violent arrest saying that, if she was taken into custody this way, “it is clear that they will inflict thousands of times more violence on the oppressed sons and daughters of others."

Explosion Shakes Russian-Occupied Sevastopol As Fighting Rages In Eastern Ukraine

The strategic city of Sevastopol is home to Russia's Black Sea fleet in Moscow-annexed Crimea. (file photo)

Russian forces unleashed a fresh wave of attacks on Ukrainian positions and settlements in the east, the General Staff of Ukraine's military said on December 8, as a loud explosion was reported in the strategically important port of Sevastopol, home to Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Moscow-annexed Crimea.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

The General Staff said in its daily report that Russian forces continued their relentless rocket attacks and bombardments on Ukrainian positions in Donetsk -- with particular focus on the towns of Bakhmut and Avdiyivka -- and Luhansk, where Moscow's offensive was concentrated around Stelmakhyivka and Ploschanka.

In the northeastern region of Kharkiv, Russians attacked Ternova, a village several kilometers from the Russian border.

The Ukrainian military also said that Russian occupiers began to mobilize local people in Melitopol in Zaporizhzhya.

Mobilization orders are being issued there to "men of draft age with the requirement to come to the military commissariat in the near future," the military said.

In Sevastopol, a powerful explosion rang out over the central part of the city early on December 8, RFE/RL correspondents reported, adding that seconds before the blast, a sound similar to that emitted by the launching of a rocket could be heard.

Mikhail Razvozhayev, the Moscow-installed administrator of Sevastopol, said the explosion was the result of the "downing of a drone."

Razvozhayev said on Telegram that a ship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet shot down the unmanned aerial vehicle over the Black Sea.

He did not specify whom the drone belonged to.

Starting in August, Sevastopol has been targeted several times by explosions which Russian authorities say were caused by Ukrainian drone attacks.

On December 7, a Russian attack on the town of Kurakhovo in Donetsk killed at least 10 people, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address.

Zelenskiy said the attack was “very brutal, absolutely calculated” and killed “peaceful people, ordinary people" at a market, a grain elevator, a gas station, a bus stop, and in a residential building.

“The list of the dead so far includes 10 people, many wounded.”

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of Ukraine's presidential administration, said that the Russian troops shelled Kurakhovo from multiple rocket launchers. The town has been among the hot spots in fighting in the Donbas region.

Tymoshenko posted video footage of buildings in flames on Telegram.

The chief of the national-power-grid operator, Ukrenerho, said on December 7 that Russian forces have fired more than 1,000 rockets and missiles at Ukraine's energy infrastructure since the start of the war.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko warned of an "apocalypse" scenario for the city this winter if Russian air strikes on infrastructure continue.

With reporting by Reuters

Hungarian PM Raids 'Extra Profits' From Oil After Scrapping Fuel Price Cap

Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban (file photo)

Hungary's government will siphon off nearly all profits earned on cheaper crude oil imported from Russia as of December 8, it said in a decree, a day after Prime Minister Viktor Orban's cabinet scrapped a retail fuel price cap amid a shortage of supplies. Lower crude imports from the Druzhba oil pipeline, extended maintenance work at oil group MOL's Danube refinery, and surging demand forced Orban to abandon the year-long cap. Orban, a vocal critic of Brussels, blamed the situation on EU sanctions on Russian crude. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

Putin Says Fight In Ukraine Could Be Long; Zelenskiy Vows Not To Leave Any Ukrainian Under Russian Occupation

Russian President Vladimir Putin (file photo)

Russian President Vladimir Putin says he has not ruled out that the fighting in Ukraine could turn into a "lengthy process," while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says Ukraine will not leave any of its citizens under Russian occupation.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

The two presidents made the comments on December 7 as they addressed separate human rights organizations.

Putin, who met in a televised meeting of his Human Rights Council, said the "special military operation" could go on for a long time, and called Russia's annexation of part of the territories of Ukraine a major achievement of the operation.

“Of course, it could be a lengthy process,” Putin said roughly nine and a half months after ordering the invasion.

Putin vowed to “consistently fight for our interests" and to “protect ourselves using all means available” and reiterated his claim that he had no choice but to send troops into Ukraine.

Putin described the land gains as “a significant result for Russia,” noting that the Sea of Azov "has become Russia’s internal sea” and recalled how Tsar Peter the Great fought to get access to it.

Russia captured the Sea of Azov port of Mariupol in May after a nearly three-month siege of the city. In September, Putin illegally annexed four Ukrainian regions – Kherson, Zaporizhzhya, Donetsk, and Luhansk -- even though his forces did not completely control them. Russia illegally seized Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

Ukraine has managed to recapture some territories, including Kherson city and the entire right bank of the Kherson region after the withdrawal of Russian forces last month.

Zelenskiy, who addressed the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Foundation, said Ukrainian forces have liberated 1,888 settlements from Russian occupation so far in the fighting.

The war has turned into a war for survival, he said.

“Hundreds of our cities and villages were simply burned to the ground due to Russian strikes,” he said. “We have already managed to free 1,888 settlements from occupation. But almost as many Ukrainian towns and villages remain under occupation. And this means that now the fate of millions of people is being decided on the battlefield in Ukraine.”

He stressed that Ukraine will not leave "any of our people under Russian occupation," in Russian camps, "where thousands have already disappeared," or on Russian territory, "where hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians were forcibly deported."

The subject of nuclear weapons was also discussed during Putin’s meeting with the Human Rights Council, whose members are mostly people who fully support the Kremlin's policy. Asked by a member of the council to pledge that Russia would not be the first to use nuclear weapons, Putin refused to give guarantees.

Russia's military strategy, he said, envisions the use of weapons of mass destruction in response to an attack.

Russia intends to protect "national interests" -- first by "peaceful means" and if this does not help, then by "all available,” Putin said.

"That means if a strike is launched against us, we will strike back in response," Putin said.

Putin has raised alarm in Western countries by making veiled threats about the use of nuclear weapons. These have raised fears that the Russian military could use a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine in order to achieve results more quickly.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price, asked about Putin's remarks, declined to reply directly but said, "We think any loose talk of nuclear weapons is absolutely irresponsible."

Putin also said it made no sense to talk about another mobilization because there is no need for it "to date."

About half of the 300,000 conscripts recently mobilized are in the "special operations" zone, but only 70,000 are directly at the front, he said.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa

British Tennis Chiefs Slam ATP Over $1 Million Fine For Russian Player Ban

Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Lawn Tennis Association came under pressure from the British government to impose a ban.

British tennis chiefs said on December 7 that they were "disappointed" at being fined $1 million by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) for banning Russian and Belarusian players from their events. Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) came under pressure from the British government to impose a ban. Russian and Belarusian players were eventually barred from all five ATP tournaments staged by the LTA. The All England Club, which organizes Wimbledon, also banned them from competing at that tournament.

Romania Rejects Austrian Objections To Its Entry Into Schengen Zone

Romania Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca (file photo)

Romania had a legitimate expectation to join Europe's open-borders Schengen area, Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca said on December 7, rejecting Austrian claims that it is a gateway for illegal migrants as unjustified. European Union interior ministers are expected to vote on December 8 on whether to admit Romania, Bulgaria, and Croatia into Schengen, a decision that requires unanimity. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

Sister Of Iran's Supreme Leader Pens Open Letter Hoping For End To 'Tyranny' Of Brother's Rule

Badri Hosseini Khamenei (second from left)

Badri Hosseini Khamenei, the estranged sister of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has criticized her brother and his "despotic caliphate" in an open letter in which she also says she hopes to see him overthrown.

Badri Khamenei’s letter, published on her son's Twitter account on December 6, expressed sympathy to the mothers who lost their loved ones because of their opposition to the Islamic republic in the last four decades and declared that she opposes the actions of her brother.

Badri Hosseini Khamenei
Badri Hosseini Khamenei

“The regime of the Islamic Republic of Khomeini and Ali Khamenei has brought nothing but suffering and oppression to Iran and Iranians,” she added, referring to Ayatollah Khomeini, who served as the first supreme leader of Iran from 1979 until his death in 1989. “I hope to see the victory of the people and the overthrow of this tyranny ruling Iran soon.”

Khamenei's sister, who lives in Iran, wrote that her brother “does not listen to the voice of the people of Iran and wrongly considers the voice of his mercenaries and money-grubbers to be the voice of the Iranian people."

In recent years, as a humanitarian duty, she said she has tried to raise the voice of the Iranian people to her brother's ears but was disappointed and cut off contact with him.

Badri Khamenei also used the letter to address the violent arrest of her daughter, saying that if her daughter is arrested in this way, “it is clear that they will inflict thousands of times more violence on the oppressed sons and daughters of others."

Badri Khamenei’s daughter, Farideh Moradkhani, who is the supreme leader’s niece, was arrested a week ago after being summoned to Tehran's Islamic Revolutionary Prosecutor's Office. In the last video she recorded before her arrest, she called on the international community to cut ties with the Iranian government.

Anger over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets nationwide to demand more freedoms and women's rights.

Amini died while in police custody after being detained for allegedly improperly wearing a hijab. Her parents and friends say she was beaten. The widespread unrest represents the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

The activist HRANA news agency said that, as of November 29, at least 459 protesters had been killed during the unrest. The figure includes 64 minors.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Alleged Russian Agent Violated U.S. Sanctions By Concealing Purchase Of Luxury Condos, U.S. Says

Andriy Derkach in Kyiv in October 2019.

A Ukrainian lawmaker who has been sanctioned by the U.S. government has now been charged with violating the sanctions when he purchased two luxury properties in California.

The seven-count indictment against Andriy Derkach, unsealed on December 7 in New York City, also charges him with money laundering and bank fraud conspiracy in the purchase and maintenance of the two properties in upscale Beverly Hills, the U.S. Justice Department said.

Derkach purchased the properties in violation of U.S. sanctions and concealed his interest in the transactions from U.S. banks, prosecutors said.

Derkach, 55, was sanctioned for his efforts to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election on behalf of the Russian intelligence services. The U.S. Treasury Department alleged at the time that Derkach -- a member of the Ukrainian parliament who studied at the KGB school in Moscow -- had been "an active Russian agent for over a decade."

U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said in the Justice Department's statement on December 7 that Derkach’s conduct has shown that “he is ready, willing, and capable of exploiting [the] banking system in order to advance his illicit goals.”

The indictment alleges that, beginning in 2013, Derkach and a co-conspirator devised a scheme to purchase and maintain the two luxury condominiums while concealing his ownership and participation in the purchase. Derkach used the services of a corporate nominee, a multitiered structure of California-based shell companies, and numerous bank and brokerage accounts to purchase the properties, the Justice Department said.

Derkach used the network to wire approximately $3.92 million to the corporate nominee from overseas accounts in Latvia and Switzerland belonging to companies registered in the British Virgin Islands, the Justice Department said. The money was then used to pay $3.2 million in cash in the name of a corporate entity set up by the nominee, with Derkach having no visible affiliation with the purchase.

The remaining $800,000 was invested in a brokerage account and used to pay expenses on the condominiums, including taxes, homeowners’ fees, and utilities.

A parallel civil forfeiture action has been initiated to seize the condominiums and the remaining funds in the U.S. accounts, the department said. If convicted, Derkach, whose whereabouts are unknown, faces a maximum of 30 years in prison.

Ukrainian authorities in June said they had uncovered a Russian spy network involving Derkach. The State Security Service (SBU) on June 24 alleged that Derkach set up a network of private security firms to help facilitate the entry of Russian units into cities during Moscow's February 24 invasion.

Derkach has previously denied wrongdoing, claiming he was being targeted for exposing corruption.

Russian Court Rejects Journalist Ivan Safronov's Appeal, Will Serve 22 Years In Penal Colony

Ivan Safronov in a Moscow courtroom in August.

MOSCOW -- A court of appeals in Moscow has rejected an appeal filed by Ivan Safronov, a prominent former journalist, against his conviction in a high-profile treason case that highlighted the Kremlin's crackdown on the media in September.

Safronov's conviction and sentence were upheld on December 7, and he is now expected to be transferred to a penal colony in the near future.

The Moscow City Court sentenced Safronov to 22 years in prison in early September after finding him guilty of handing secret materials to foreign agents in a case that is widely considered to be politically motivated.

Safronov has repeatedly denied accusations that he passed documents to Czech secret service agent Martin Laris in 2017 about Russian arms sales in the Middle East. He also denies handing unspecified classified information to German secret service agent Demuri Voronin.

Safronov's supporters have held pickets in Moscow and other cities demanding his release.

Safronov, who was arrested in July 2020, went on trial behind closed doors in early April.

The 32-year-old journalist, who covered the defense industry for the newspapers Kommersant and Vedomosti, is also a former adviser to the former head of Russia's space agency, Roskosmos. Russian President Vladimir Putin has twice publicly stated that the charges are related to Safronov's work at Roskosmos.

Human rights organizations have issued statements demanding Safronov’s release and expressing concerns over an intensifying crackdown on dissent in Russia. The Russian human rights organization Memorial recognized him as a political prisoner.

Investigators deny that Safronov's prosecution is related to his work, but they previously offered him a pretrial agreement in exchange for disclosing journalistic sources.

Iran Sentences Five Protesters To Death Over Alleged Involvement In Basij Officer's Death

One of those sentenced to death is Hamid Qarahasanlou, a radiologist that human rights groups say was tortured during interrogation and is now in a hospital. He is seen here with this wife, Farzaneh Qarahasanlou, who was sentenced to 25 years. (file photo)

Iran's judiciary has sentenced to death five people -- including one who is in the hospital recovering after reportedly being tortured -- over the killing of a member of the Basij paramilitary force during nationwide protests.

The judiciary said on December 6 that it had also sentenced 11 others to prison sentences for their alleged roles in the death of Ruhollah Ajamian, who was part of the Basij, a volunteer branch under the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

One of those sentenced to death is Hamid Qarahasanlou, a radiologist that human rights groups say was tortured during interrogation and is now in a hospital as a result.

The three others sentenced to death were not named. Of the 11 people sentenced, three were minors, judiciary spokesman Massoud Setayeshi told a news conference, adding the sentences can be appealed.

Farzaneh Qarahasanlou, Hamid Qarahasanlou's wife, was sentenced to 25 years and exiled to a prison in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz.

Both of the Qarahasanlous denied any wrongdoing in court and said they were merely participants in protests over the death of a young woman, Mahsa Amini, who died while in custody over allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

Several of the defendants were charged with "corruption on Earth," which is punishable by death and often leveled in cases allegedly involving espionage or attempts to overthrow Iran's government.

The cases were decided within six days and after three court hearings.

Prosecutors said the 27-year-old Ajamian was stripped naked and killed by a group of mourners who had been paying tribute to a slain protester, Hadis Najafi, during ceremonies marking the 40th day since her death.

Human rights organizations have strongly objected to the death sentences being issued against protesters in Iran after "sham trials."

Amnesty International wrote in a statement that, according to informed sources, the Iranian authorities tortured Qarahasanlou and forced Farzaneh Qarahasanlou to accuse her husband of wrongdoing.

"On 1 December, [Hamid Qarahasanlou] was removed from hospital, where he had undergone surgery for internal bleeding, and taken to court for trial while he was heavily sedated and recovering from surgery and then returned to hospital afterwards," Amnesty said in the statement.

"The couple’s first two lawyers dropped their case after intelligence and security agents threatened them," it added.

The BBC quoted an informed source as saying that, during the interrogations, Farzaneh was hit on the head with a baton so many times that, to save herself, she said that her husband may have kicked the victim. She later recanted the statement.

Iran is currently in the throes of unrest as people take to the streets across the country to protest Amini's death on September 16.

Police have met the unrest with deadly force.

The activist HRANA news agency said that, as of November 29, at least 459 protesters have been killed during the unrest, including 64 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

The Oslo-based Iran Human Rights Organization says the number of executions in Iran exceeds 500 this year.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Uzbek Household Cooked Food For Nearly 30 Years In Cauldron More Than 2,000 Years Old

Experts assessed that the cauldron belonged to the ancient nomadic Saka people.

An ancient bronze cauldron estimated to be more than 2,000 years old was used for almost 30 years by a household in Uzbekistan to cook food before it was recognized for its cultural value and turned over to a museum. Uzbekistan's Agency of Cultural Heritage said on December 6 that a school director in the Samarkand region found the cauldron in 1993 when digging a canal and did not know its cultural value. Experts assessed that the cauldron belonged to the ancient nomadic Saka people. It has now been acquired by a state museum in Samarkand. To read the original story from RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, click here.

Russian Woman Among Alleged Members Of Extremist Group Arrested In Germany

German police secure the area after 25 suspected members and supporters of a far-right group were detained during raids across Germany, in Berlin on December 7.

A Russian woman was among more than two dozen suspects detained in Germany on December 7 during nationwide raids on an extremist group linked to the Reichsbuerger movement that allegedly aimed to overthrow the government. According to German prosecutors, the detained Russian citizen is suspected of facilitating unsuccessful attempts to make contact between a would-be group leader and Russian officials. The Russian Embassy in Berlin has denied any links with the group, while Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the arrests an internal issue for Germany. To read the original story from RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Iranian Students Say They Were Beaten Back Ahead Of Speech By Raisi At Tehran University

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a ceremony marking Student Day at Tehran University on December 7.

Students at Tehran University say they were beaten back by security forces as they tried to hold a protest as President Ebrahim Raisi arrived to deliver a speech amid anti-government unrest that has rocked the country since the September death of a young woman while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

The Students' Union Council Telegram channel on December 7 said several students were injured and left bloodied by the attacking security forces.

Each year on December 7, which is Student Day in Iran, demonstrations are organized by many universities at which students put forward democratic demands.

WATCH: General strikes have been held for a third day in Iran, with shops and factories closed across the country. Meanwhile, students at Tehran University said they were beaten by security forces ahead of a speech on campus by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.

Iranians Strike For Third Day Amid Nationwide Protests Against Government
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Besides such issues as academic rights, freedom of speech, and academic independence from the government, the demands also often reflect broader democratic movements in Iran, including this year's protest movement that has built up across the country since Mahsa Amini died in Tehran on September 16.

Students have been one of the main forces behind the unrest, which has been met by security officials with a brutal, and often deadly, crackdown.

Raisi, an ultra-conservative leader, arrived at the school and in a speech held in front of a selected group of pro-government students said that "protest is different from rioting" and that it was rioters who were "unjustly killing our loved ones."

While Raisi spoke, many students gathered in different parts of the university and chanted slogans against the government, as well as the slogan "Women, Life, Freedom."

Reports from other universities, including AmirKabir University in Tehran, and other universities in Mashhad said students were severely beaten there as well.

An eyewitness from Ferdowsi University in Mashhad said that a gathering of students there was "attacked" by security forces.

Meanwhile, nationwide strikes at businesses and shops continued for a third day.

Videos received by RFERL’s Radio Farda showed shopkeepers in Isfahan, Bukan, and Tehran on strike in support of the protests.

The government has responded to almost three months of unrest with deadly force as it tries to suppress one of the deepest challenges to the Islamic regime since the revolution in 1979.

The activist HRANA news agency said that, as of November 29, at least 459 protesters had been killed during the unrest, including 64 minors.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Time Magazine Announces Ukraine's Zelenskiy As Person Of The Year For 2022

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attends an award ceremony of a battle banner to an army brigade on the Day of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in Kyiv on December 6.

Time magazine says it has chosen Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and the "Spirit of Ukraine" as its person of the year for 2022 for standing up in the face of Russia's invasion. Noting that the 44-year-old leader had no military background or interest in military affairs, he instead used instincts honed "from a lifetime as an actor on the stage" to guide him through the country's most difficult hour. "Zelenskiy's success as a wartime leader has relied on the fact that courage is contagious," the magazine said in an article making the announcement on December 7. To read the original story by Time, click here.

Kyrgyz Musician Seeks Compensation From Kazakhstan For Beating In Custody

Vikram Ruzahunov says he suffered a chest injury, broken ribs, a concussion, and multiple bruises while in custody.

BISHKEK -- A well-known Kyrgyz jazz musician who was severely beaten while detained by police in Kazakhstan during deadly anti-government protests in January will seek financial compensation from Astana after an investigation into his treatment by police officers is complete.

Vikram Ruzakhunov's lawyer, Bakyt Avtandil, told RFE/RL on December 6 that the move will be made after the ongoing evidence-checking process and the investigation end.

Ruzakhunov, who says he suffered a chest injury, broken ribs, a concussion, and multiple bruises while in custody, visited Kazakhstan in September after Kazakh officials launched a probe into his beating in Almaty.

Anti-government protests sparked by a fuel-price hike erupted in Kazakhstan in early January. President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has publicly blamed what he said were "extremists" trained abroad for attacking Almaty during the unrest. He has not produced any evidence to back up the claim.

Ruzakhunov's situation was amplified when a Kazakh television channel showed a video in which he said he was recruited by an unspecified group to take part in the unrest for $200. In the video, severe bruises can be seen on Ruzakhunov's face, backing up his claims that he was forced to make the statement.

The video sparked protests in Kyrgyzstan, where Ruzakhunov was immediately recognized by fans. He was freed several days after his arrest and allowed to go to Bishkek after the Kyrgyz government demanded his release.

Kazakh officials said earlier that six people were tortured to death after being arrested for taking part in the protests, and 238 people died during or after the unrest, which was violently dispersed by law enforcement and the armed forces.

The Kazakh Prosecutor-General's Office has said 25 people were officially considered victims of torture as investigators used hot irons during their interrogations.

Human rights groups insist that the number of killed during the unrest may be much bigger, presenting proof that many peaceful demonstrators and persons who had nothing to do with the protesters were killed by police and military personnel following Toqaev's "shoot-to-kill-without-warning" order.

In July, police in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, concluded that Kazakh authorities had inflicted severe injuries on Ruzakhunov's body during his illegal arrest in January.

Belarusian Lawmakers Approve Death Penalty For High Treason By Officials, Military

A woman holds up a protest sign against Russian aggression in Ukraine in Minsk on February 27.

Amid fears that Russia plans new attacks along with the Belarusian military against Ukraine from Belarusian territory, Belarusian lawmakers approved in the first reading on December 7 a bill that envisages the death penalty for high treason committed by officials and military personnel. The bill also includes criminal prosecution for "spreading false information discrediting Belarusian armed forces." Russia adopted a similarly controversial law in March, days after it launched its ongoing invasion of Ukraine in late February. To read the original story from RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Russian Law Enforcement Officers Detain Man Suspected Of Opening Fire At Police

Russian police officers stand guard outside a courthouse in Russia's Rostov region. (file photo)

Police in Russia's Rostov region have apprehended a man suspected of opening fire with a machine gun at a group of police officers on December 6, wounding one of them. The region's governor, Vasily Golubev, said on Telegram on December 7 that the suspect was found in an abandoned building in the town of Novoshakhtinsk. Some media reports identified the man as Pavel Nikolin, a 38-year inmate of a penitentiary in Bashkortostan, who was recruited in prison to join the war in Ukraine but deserted with a machine gun. To read the original story from RFE/RL's Crimea.Realities, click here.

Media Oulets Express Support For TV Dozhd After Latvia Pulls License

On December 2, Dozhd was fined 10,000 euros ($10,468) for using a map of Russia with Ukraine's Moscow-annexed Crimea on it and calling Russian armed forces invading Ukraine "our army."

More than 60 media outlets and independent journalists broadcasting and writing in Russian, including those based in Latvia, have expressed support for the independent Russian television channel Dozhd (Rain) after Latvia's electronic media authority revoked its broadcasting license.

The Latvia-based Meduza news website published a letter of support for Dozhd hours after the chairman of Latvia's National Electronic Media Council (NEPLP), Ivars Abolins, announced the license revocation on December 6, saying the decision, which takes force on December 8, was made "in connection with the threat to national security and public order."

Meduza's letter of support to Dozhd TV adds that statements saying "these violations pose a 'national security threat' are unconvincing," and that the television channel's position against Russia's war in Ukraine is "obvious" as it is critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin's policies.

"[Dozhd's] significance in countering Russian state propaganda is colossal. Roaring about 'national security' conceals what is actually a heavy blow to free speech and ultimately to European security as well," the letter says.

Dozhd said in a statement on Twitter earlier that the move was "unfair and absurd," adding that while it will cease broadcasting on cable, its YouTube station will continue to operate.

NEPLP granted Dozhd a broadcast license in June after it was forced to suspend operations in Russia in March amid pressure linked to its coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

On December 2, Dozhd was fined 10,000 euros ($10,468) for using a map of Russia with Ukraine's Moscow-annexed Crimea on it and calling Russian armed forces invading Ukraine "our army."

On the same day, Latvia's state security service said it had launched an investigation in connection with statements "which raise suspicions about the assistance provided by this TV channel to the soldiers of the Russian occupation forces in Ukraine."

Dozhd anchor Aleksei Korostelyov on December 1 called on the Dozhd audience to write about cases of violations of Russian laws during the recent mobilization in Russia and about war crimes. In making the request, he said:

"We hope we also helped many military personnel, namely by assisting with equipment and bare necessities on the front line."

The security service said in a news release, "No provision of support to the aggressor Russia is justifiable," it said, adding that anyone helping the Russian forces was subject to criminal liability.

Moscow Court Postpones Verdict, Sentencing Of Opposition Politician Ilya Yashin

Russian opposition activist Ilya Yashin stands in a cage in a courtroom prior to a hearing in Moscow on November 29.

A Moscow court has postponed until December 9 its verdict and sentence in the case of opposition politician Ilya Yashin, who is charged with spreading false information about the Russian military amid its ongoing invasion of Ukraine. The judge was scheduled to hand down a decision on December 7 but the court building was cleared after a bomb threat. Prosecutors seek nine years in prison for the outspoken Kremlin critic. The charge against Yashin stems from his YouTube posts about alleged crimes committed by the Russian military in the Ukrainian city of Bucha. To read the original story from RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Putin Signs Decree Increasing Number Of Police Officers To 938,000 By 2025

Russian police detain a protester who took part in a rally in Moscow against Putin's announced mobilization on September 21.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree to increase the number of police officers in the country to 938,000 by 2025. According to the decree, dated December 5, the number of police in the country will be 922,000 next year, and 934,00 in 2024. After Moscow illegally annexed Ukraine's Crimea and threw support to pro-Russia separatists in 2014, the maximum number of the police personnel in the country was legally set at 894,000. Since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, tens of thousands of Russians have been called up for military duty. To read the original story by RFE/RL's North.Realities, click here.

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